A lot of people tend to wonder what the role of Operations is within a tech company—and there are plenty of answers to go along as well.
Here’s what Varun Rajan, the Head of Operations at UrbanPiper has to say—
Operations is responsible for minimising all the friction that arises from the gap between a product market fit to product adoption.
— Varun Rajan (operations @ UrbanPiper)
UrbanPiper’s Operations Team has come a long way since 2016.
This was a time when every deal closure and every restaurant going live on the UrbanPiper platform was celebrated on a Slack channel—and then, the pressure was on. Every deal was revered and there was a come-what-may attitude towards taking them live. This singular attitude towards taking them live allowed us to hack our way through any obstructions.
The platform doesn't cover a certain feature–no problem, we've got a hack for it. Be on a call with the merchant while rummaging through volumes of "requirements" shared by another merchant—yes sir! Respond to queries sent across on mail–most certainly. It was all about getting the job done, in the least amount of time. Speed was a virtue. At the altar of get-the-job-done, processes and structure could take a back seat.
While there was no structure, SOP or clarity on the job at hand, the objective was clear — maximize output. We were the go-getters. So overall, especially at the beginning, the good times didn’t come as often as the challenging ones but we learnt that despite all the challenges, starting a business from just an idea and getting clients to show an interest in what we were doing, was hugely satisfying and gave us a great sense of achievement.
The team strength doubled. From 4 to 8. Insignificant as it may seem, it meant a world of change for us.
Our OMS product line started to take off. We started to attract some premium brands. Merchants started to reach to us on their own. The word-of-mouth effect about a startup that has a good product and a super-dedicated operations team started to do the rounds.
Hustling was still the bedrock upon which our plans were being laid. We just kept getting better in devising ever so seemingly efficient plans at ensuring that merchants are taken live–as quickly as possible.
However, this is about the time when we realised the need to re-organise the monolithic Operations team into smaller groups of specialised functions. The first to emerge were—support and ACM (account management).
It wasn't like the practices involved in these teams weren't being handled before. It was just that there were no clear owners and priorities defined. All we did is to separate out a set of "tasks" and assign a dedidcated group of "people"—and lo behold, we were making progress. At least, that's what we thought.
This was probably the time when we understood a valuable lesson for an operations team—
Operations takes care of "everything" that tech and sales can't. At first, the things that make up the "everything" appear to have no clear relationships. But in time, "patterns" emerge which when grouped together and provided with a focused team, yield better results.
And then, this process keeps repeating itself.
2018: The Red Queen's Race
This was the year when our Hub product started to assume centre stage. What had started as a bunch of feature enhancements had taken the shape of a full-fledged product. The OMS product while having slowed down a bit in its market traction was still attracting a good deal of attention.
Now we had merchants who wanted the OMS product, those who wanted the Hub product, and then those who wanted both.
This was all good from the company's point-of-view, but what we were dealing with was essentially 2 separate products that had pretty different dynamics when it came to on-boarding and expectations.
OMS was a lot more involved and required much back and forth. The room for "subjectivity" was much higher, hence the on-boarding was protracted and needed a lot of attention. But once live, things would calm down reasonably fast.
Hub, on the other hand, was far simpler to deal with. The room for subjectivity was low, the value proposition well understood—and hence, a shorter go-live duration. But post-live, any and all issues needed quick redressals.
With these 2 conflicting flows, and a team that had doubled again, it was clear that the days of hustling and quick-fixes were at and end. There was an overwhelming sense of putting in a lot more effort just so that we could keep up with the same pace of growth.
This is when we started working on structural changes to address the challenges. It all started with an induction and training plan. Taking new joinees through 4-weeks of sessions to help them grasp how the team functions.
Defining SOPs, checklists and improved documentation.
Most importantly, this year we realised that it is going to be imperative to build in proper structures to support the journey of a team member from being a novice to a contributor.
It is simply not enough to expect that people come looking for a challenge in a startup, so let's give them one.
We need to "equip" them to some degree to meet that challenge.
The trend of doubling team size continued. But the effort put in to address the needs of a growing team started coming to fruition.
Better defined SOPs, training plans and a relatively better structured induction plan helped us achieve unpredented levels of operational efficiency. Almost every record in terms of revenue realisation through effective onboarding processes were shattered.
Our customer base increased by over 200%, we closed a spectacular Series-A round of funding, and there's a clear mandate to grow the company's throughput by a factor of 10x.
At this point, the 2 most defining aspects of our evolution has been:
- bringing "data" at the core of all our functions
- starting another round of re-organisation to address the growth
Scaling requires decisions to be made backed up with good data. Any changes in SOPs and structures were less based on intuition and more around data. Operations now relied on maintaining, analyzing and acting upon data. Forecasting targets and deliverables based on existing trends became the norm.
One other thing has to invest in building out a "Delivery" focused team and a "Customer Success" focused team. This split would help drive greater efficiencies in how we take merchants live, while at the same time, bringing in a clear set of guidelines to manage the expectations of merchants once they are live on the platform.
As we step into the 2020s, a key aspect for us is going to be—
An effective team structure that enables delegation while never compromising on the "ownership" and "accountability" of the tasks at hand.
The age of "leaders" is at hand.